10 Famous Faces in The Midland’s Hall of Fame

Reading through the book ‘The Midland Hotel, Morecambe’s White Hope’, I was intrigued by a selection of signatures from the 1950s Visitors Book. Some of the personalities I had heard or seen on radio and television, some of the names were vaguely familiar and there were some I knew nothing about. Fascinated, I took a closer look at some of The Midland’s famous footfall and was amazed to find international leading lights of their time in music, film, comedy, dance and politics.

English: Midland Hotel, Morecambe, in evening ...
English: Midland Hotel, Morecambe, in evening sunlight. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1 – William ‘Bud’ Abbott & Lou Costello

Abbot-and-CostelloProbably the most popular comedy duo during the 1940s and 50s. Their film ‘Buck Privates’ in 1941 made them box office stars and saved Universal from imminent bankruptcy. Universal then added glitzy production numbers to Abbott and Costello’s films performing alongside music by The Andrews Sisters, Ella Fitzgerald, Martha Raye and Ted Lewis and his orchestra.

“Lou was once thrown out of the Midland at four o’clock in the morning for ‘misbehaving himself’. He was put in a taxi and drove round Morecambe looking for somewhere to stay but there wasn’t a room available. So four hours later he came back on his knees, apologised and begged to be allowed back in” (Bobby Parkes).

The Midland Guest Book entry:

“A very happy stay. Thanks a million. Lou Costello, Bud Abbott”

 2 – Eric Morecambe & Ernie Wise

morecambe-and-wiseWell known and loved comedy duo. John Eric Bartholomew changed his stage name to Morecambe after his home town. Eric and Ernie were invited to switch on the Morecambe illuminations in 1969. Staying at The Midland, dinner was delayed because Eric was chatting and joking with the waitresses, some of whom were his classmates from his Euston Road school. Featured in the book ‘The Midland Hotel, Morecambe’s White Hope’, is the letter written by the hotel manager confirming the two twin rooms for “Messrs Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise at a cost of £6.0.0d each plus 10% service charge.”

3 – Victor Silvester OBE

Victor-SilvesterEnglish dancer, author, musician and bandleader. By 1956 Victor had become the most successful dance band leader in British musical history. He was one of the most significant figures in the development of the theory and practice of ballroom dance. He also formed a 5-piece ballroom dance band, selling 75 million copies of his records through to the ‘80s. He insisted his recordings confirmed precisely to the beats per minute recommended for ballroom dance, a concept termed ‘strict tempo’, making him indelibly associated with the phrase ‘slow, slow, quick-quick slow.’

The Midland Guest Book entry:

“With every good wish. Victor Silvester”

4 – Tommy Trinder

Tommy-TrinderBritain’s best loved comedian in the 1930s – 1960s. Star of stage, screen and radio of pre and post war years. His famous catchphrase was “you lucky people”. His shows brought welcome relief during the darkest days of war. Tommy was a lifelong devoted supporter of Fulham Football Club and was Chairman between 1959 and 1976. During his time he hired and fired Bobby Robson.

The Midland Guest Book entry:

“With my sincere thanks, Tommy Trinder”

5 – Alma Cogan

Alma-Cogan‘dubbed the girl with the laugh/giggle/chuckle in her voice’. Alma was the highest paid British female entertainer of her era. Sadly, she died of cancer when only 34 years of age. After her death, it has been reported that her sister confirmed rumours of her clandestine love affair with the Beatles’ John Lennon, who she would meet in anonymous London west end hotel suites. The Beatles became regular visitor to the Cogan residence and it was on Alma’s piano that Paul McCartney composed ‘Yesterday’. He first named this tune ‘Scrambled Eggs’ because that is what ‘Ma McCogie’ had just cooked them.

The Midland Guest Book entry:

“You’re the best!! Love Alma Cogan”

6 – Guy Mitchell

Guy-MitchellAmerican 1950s pop singer. Guy’s record sales were in excess of 44 million and was probably best known in the UK for his chart topping ‘She Wears Red Feathers.’

The Midland Guest Book entry:

“Dear Ricky & Morag, Thanks for a wonderful week. God bless you both. Yo’ pal, Guy Mitchell

7 – Lord & Lady Docker

Norah-&-Bernard-DockerEnglish socialites. Norah Docker was originally a dance hostess in her youth and married three times, latterly to Sir Bernard Docker, chairman of Daimler Co, Midland Bank and Thomas Cook & Son. Once, whilst attending the christening of Prince Albert of Monaco, Lord and Lady Docker had brought their infant son with them but he was not allowed to attend the ceremony. Furious about this, Lady Docker tore up a paper Monacan flag on her table. The Royal family promptly returned the christening gift and Lady Docker was banned from returning to the French Riviera.

Although perhaps not popular in some quarters, the Docker’s were welcomed by the housekeeping staff at The Midland as they always left a £5 tip!

The Midland Guest Book entry:

The Midland Hotel, Morecambe is the nicest and most comfortable hotel we have stayed in. We than Mr and Mrs Hodgson for being so kind to us and making our visit such a happy one. Norah & Bernard Docker”

8 – Rowland Emett

Rowland-EmettEnglish cartoonist and constructor of whimsical kinetic sculpture. Rowland was the grandson of Queen Victoria’s engraver. Regularly publishing cartoons in Punch, he became ‘Emett of Punch’. His drawings started to include railway scenes and gradually developed a unique concept of strange bumbling trains with silly names and with excessively tall chimneys. When asked how he came up with his designs he said “It is a well known fact that all inventors get their first ideas on the back of an envelope. I take slight exception to this, I use the front so that I can incorporate the stamp and then the design is already half done”!

An illustration by Rowland Emmett in the guest book
An illustration by Rowland Emmett in the guest book

The Midland Guest Book entry:

“Thank you for making our stay, though short, so very confortable. Rowland Emett”

9 – Georgy Malenkov

Georgy-MalenkovVisited The Midland in 1956 just after his brief Premiership of Soviet Union. As a youth, his family connections to Lenin speeded his political promotion. In the 1930s he worked in close association with Stalin and was involved in the ‘great purge’ where over a million people perished. In 1956 when he visited The Midlamd he was Russia’s Minister of Energy and, ostensibly, on a tour of Britain’s power plans. In reality the reason for his trip was to test the temperature of British hospitality for the forthcoming visit of Krushchev. There was an air of secrecy about the afternoon tea booking for thirty guests until two long black ZIS limousines bearing diplomatic plates swept up to the front door and out of one stepped the chubby figure of Georgy Malenko.

The Midland Guest Book entry:

‘G Malenkov, CCCP’ (Central Committee of the Communist Party)

10 – Trevor Howard

Trevor-HowardBritish film, stage and television actor. Trevor was recommended to Noel Coward who agreed that he should be ‘Alec’ in the film ‘Brief Encounter’ which was partly filmed in the local Carnforth railway station, re-named ‘Milford Junction’ for the purposes of filming. This film became one of the most popular romantic films of all time and ranks second in the British Film Institute’s Top 100 Best Films and shot Trevor Howard to fame. Staying in The Midland during the filming, he was described at that time by Bobby Parkes, British Rally Driver as “a nice man, keen on MGs. I had one then and we would go on drives together”.

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